16
Mar 09

PAUL MCCARTNEY AND STEVIE WONDER – “Ebony And Ivory”

FT + Popular51 comments • 4,416 views

#499, 24th April 1982

An awful suspicion lingers that Paul McCartney wouldn’t have tried something like this if it hadn’t been for “Imagine” doing so well the year before. Some partnerships and rivalries create reflexes that run way deeper than conscious decision can account for, and anyhow Lennon was – naturally – on the man’s mind as he put the Tug Of War material together. A piano ballad whose simple truth can bring the world together as one? What could possibly go wrong?

Everything about “Ebony And Ivory” is rotten, from the too-splashy electric piano on. There is good and bad in everyone, and here we get the bad, great shameless lashings of it. Each saving grace you could mention gets the rug pulled out from under it. Stevie Wonder’s singing? Of course it’s fine, but the whole duet has a forced quality – as well it might, since there’s nothing to duet about: Stevie has been drafted in because he’s a passing black legend and the song calls for one to say “me too” to Paul’s homilies. McCartney’s ear for melody? Present and correct, naturally, but keeping it school-assembly simple doesn’t do him favours. “Wonderful Christmastime” was similarly desperate to please, but seems to have become a standard despite this: “Ebony And Ivory” mostly lives on as an easy target – a gold standard for triteness.

1

Comments

1 2 All
  1. 26
    ace inhibitor on 17 Mar 2009 #

    pianos are great, but if you are going to use them as a metaphor for the essential oneness of humanity you are morally obliged, I think, to find a melody in which the crucial word actually scans properly. ‘Pyaahnoh’, indeed. 1/10 on this basis alone.

  2. 27
    Conrad on 17 Mar 2009 #

    yes, but you do get “keyboard/oh lord” following it, which is right up there in the so-facile-its-brilliant stakes with my personal favourite

    “Its a mystery – like ancient history, uh huh”

    courtesy, The Nolans New Pop gem “Chemistry”.

  3. 28
    wichita lineman on 17 Mar 2009 #

    Re 11 and 18: You’re both a bit harsh on Ron’s 22 – they did go out unbeaten, and stuffed the French (eventual semi finalists). Quite honourable, really. My main memory of this tournament was of Norman Whieside being younger than me and he was PLAYING IN THE WORLD CUP (I was 17 at the time). Mortality was creeping like a tube train up my spine, as Roger Waters might have put it.

    Re 6: Agreed, but only because the squelchiness and DIY feel of Wonderful Christmastime was an embarrassment in ’79 but sounds charming and almost Hoxtonian in C21. The keyboard sounds on E&I didn’t raise an eyebrow in ’82 and, yes, the vocals were recorded in different continents. Couldn’t see the joins then but you sure as hell can now.

    Maybe this is why excessive praise for Hollywood special effects makes me sniff derisively – give it 15 years, bub!

  4. 29
    byebyepride on 17 Mar 2009 #

    Re 12 – where was your school located geographically? I am struck by the fact that only yesterday I was remembering a schoolfriend whose name was ‘Clewer’ and whose father was in fact… headmaster at another school.

  5. 30
    Erithian on 17 Mar 2009 #

    Wichita #28 – yes, fair play to Ron’s 22, although they peaked after 27 seconds and ran out of steam when they could have done with Kev and Trev being fully fit. It was the World Cup of Big Norm’s Northern Ireland beating Spain and Schumacher flattening Batiston (more about the Germans in the next entry). Also around this time we had the memorable TOTP where Steve Archibald appeared twice, for Scotland’s World Cup song and Spurs’ Cup Final song – good quiz question, that.

    Re mortality – the first top-flight player younger than me was Tommy Caton, and he tragically died at 30.

  6. 31
    johnny on 17 Mar 2009 #

    i remember a particularly amusing Saturday Night Live spoof of this song around the time of it’s release. Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy as Sinatra and Wonder, respectively.

    Sinatra: You are black
    Wonder: and you are whiiite
    Sinatra: You are blind as a bat and i have sight!

  7. 32
    LondonLee on 17 Mar 2009 #

    And we’re both too talented to be singing this shite…

  8. 33
    Elsa on 17 Mar 2009 #

    It is said that Irving Berlin played piano predominantly on the black keys. He even owned a mechanical device that would shift the keyboard’s tonality so that he could continue to play that way while hearing himself in a variety of keys.

  9. 34
    Snif on 17 Mar 2009 #

    I seem to recall the one good thing about this tune was that it inspired Alexei Sayle’s “Pop Up Toaster” – which came out almost in time for the Comic Strip’s appearance at the Adelaide Festival Of Arts in 1982…which was just over 27 years ago this week …and during which a goodly bit of “The Young Ones” was written…which I can mention a day or two after French And Saunders Oz tour has sold out…and that’s about as good a thing that I can say about this song.

  10. 35
    thevisitor on 17 Mar 2009 #

    Re 29 – it was Cottesbrooke Junior School in Birmingham. Mr Clewer was there in the late 70s. He had ginger hair and good intentions, albeit clumsily executed. In that assembly I have a very clear memory of him sarcastically referring to us as the “Small Ball Marvels” (we played with a small ball) and looking a little too pleased with the name he had come up with. And, in a separate “incident”, he once pooh-poohed my contention that the difference between a town and a city was that a city contained a cathedral. Not that I’ve been harbouring any sort of a grudge for 29 YEARS! Feel like I should say something else about Ebony and Ivory to make this post a little less off-topicy, but I’m struggling. Sorry.

  11. 36
    CarsmileSteve on 17 Mar 2009 #

    are we saving all the BARDO love for the forthcoming entry then?

    i will now be singing “this time” for the remainer of the evening.

    if this is world cup reminisciences, this was the first one i can remember (and i still think it’s the best england strip), specifically being in a baked potato shop in peebles (possibly even a spudulike) when robson scored after 23 seconds…

  12. 37
    vinylscot on 18 Mar 2009 #

    It’s not particularly good, and this was even more disappointing, given the promising nature of the previous “McCartney II” project.

    I don’t think McCartney was/is so naive that this was not meant to be, on some level, rather tongue in cheek. But, as he has often done throughout his career, he seems to have rather misjudged the whimsy, not making it plain enough that it was not be be taken too earnestly.

    I have no doubt we will be speaking further of McCartney’s whimsy in later entries.

  13. 38
    The Intl on 18 Mar 2009 #

    Piece of shit. I like how Stevie’s photo was just popped into the Paul-against-a-giant-faux-keyboard shot. Maybe it was because HE HAD AN AFRO IN 198X! (did he? or was that an old shot? didn’t the old lady have her camera in the studio?) Just wondering: did Stevie have a version of this little ditty “minus Paul” on HIS lp?

  14. 39
    Billy Smart on 18 Mar 2009 #

    I vividly remember the mascot for Espana ’82, an orange wearing a football shirt.

  15. 40
    Tom on 18 Mar 2009 #

    NARANJITO call him by his name

  16. 41
    Conrad on 18 Mar 2009 #

    The Visitor, at 35 – I suffered the same ignominy! I had an English teacher at School – Mr Essex (Walter, not David, sadly). A pompous idiot of a man who asked us all to write an essay about an English city we had visited.

    When I was in my early teens I had a fervent desire to live in the West Country and quaff cider while watching Ian Botham and Viv Richards massacre county bowling attacks at Taunton.

    I researched and decided that Taunton wasn’t a beautiful place so I opted to live in Wells. I wrote my essay on Wells, and what a beautiful place it was to live in, with easy access for the cricket. I had never been to Wells, nor anywhere near it. Mr Essex was not impressed – “Wells is not a city, it is a small town, I know it well!”

    Such a witty man.

    I pointed out it had a cathedral which therefore meant it qualified as a city – to no avail….

  17. 42
    Conrad on 18 Mar 2009 #

    37, “McCartney’s whimsy” would make a terrific title for a Macca best-of. it would sell by the bucket load

  18. 43
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Mar 2009 #

    mccartney’s iron whimsy

  19. 44
    peter goodlaws on 19 Mar 2009 #

    This was pleasant enough to not jeopodise your breakfast but it seemed to me that it was very much the case of two major artists combining for a sure fire winner rather than a sincere plea for racial harmony, which I think was much better served by a record called “Black and White” by somebody called Greyhound, which my dad had knocking about the house. The bloke at the end of that record was rather threatening with his demands for peace and love at the fade, rather like when Mr T used to lose his rag with that nutter on the A-Team. The result was that there WOULD be racial harmony or else some fucker would get hurt.

  20. 45
    AndyPandy on 20 Mar 2009 #

    Re 28: That’s just what I thought back in 1982 he was the first famous person who I’d ever known to be younger than me (by about a month)strangely enough there’d been a few near ones years before (Jimmy Osmond and Lena Zavaroni – a couple of years older than me and when you’re 7 or 8 you quite like the idea of nearly being as old as a famous person anyway so it’s a bit different!).
    Bit unfortunate with Norman though as even now he’s still the youngest player to appear in the World Cup Finals, even Pele was older in 1958…

  21. 46
    peter goodlaws on 21 Mar 2009 #

    I take great delight in pointing out to friend Waldo that he is older than the President of the United States. And about twice his body weight…

  22. 47
    misschillydisco on 25 Mar 2009 #

    I have a favourite memory of this particular song. Back in the early 2000s I used to frequent Impotent Fury at the 333 (run by Fred from Lemon Jelly). At the first one I went to, there was karaoke in the basement, and I saw a grown man dressed as Mr Blobby and a young lady duetting Ebony and Ivory, tunelessly. Happy days.

  23. 48
    intothefireuk on 26 Mar 2009 #

    just shite really…..no excuses from either of them. I don’t think McCartney himself would even want to revisit it. However ‘Take It Away’ I like a lot.

  24. 49
    DanH on 9 Aug 2013 #

    Agreed…never liked this song at all. Tug of War is a good album though. and I love “Take It Away” to bits…there’s nothing innovative about it, just good solid pop.

  25. 50
    hectorthebat on 22 Oct 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Grammy Awards (USA) – Record of the Year Nominee

  26. 51
    mapman132 on 27 Oct 2014 #

    Popular trivia: This is the only one of Tom’s bottom of the barrel so far that was also a US #1. I personally wouldn’t rate it quite so bad – despite a dull tune and annoyingly anvilicious lyrics, I’d probably give it a 3 or 4/10. Not that there hasn’t been some truly dire transatlantic crap: “The Streak” and possibly “My Ding-a-Ling” would get 1/10 from me. And then there’s others that won’t be troubling us here: in particular “Mr. Custer” and “You’re Having My Baby” come to mind.

1 2 All

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)


If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)

Required

Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page